CANTON (AP) — Councilman Jason Scaglione cruised along the street. His head swiveled back and forth as he steered with one hand. He spotted a shopping cart and hit the brakes.
The Walmart cart sat in an alley — right where a resident told him it would be found.
The councilman already had spent an hour hoisting carts into the bed of his GMC truck in spitting November rain. He dropped off seven Walmart carts and three Giant Eagle carts. Then, a Giant Eagle staffer mentioned another while helping him unload.
Scaglione returned it with two more carts from each grocery store. He passed them on his way back.
“I can’t let stuff just lay around,” he said.
It all started about a year ago.
Scaglione, a Democrat, joined Canton City Council in 2016 and wanted to do something about the unseemly number of stray carts.
“It seems like, within the last year or so, is when it’s got the worst,” he said. “It’s always happened, but it had been kind of minor compared to recently.”
He rounds up carts about once a month. Scaglione said he makes a mental note of ones he sees while driving around his ward and also receives messages from constituents.
“I’ll usually go out until I’ve got a truckload, which is about 10 carts,” he said.
There are the usual spots: trash bins behind a drug store or at a housing complex. And “just here, there and everywhere,” Scaglione said.
Not all the carts are whole. He has picked up three mangled ones.
“It was actually pieces of carts, so I’d hate to see the person’s vehicle after they hit them, which is kind of one of the main reasons I keep after it,” Scaglione said.
The cart patrol also consists of Councilman Robert Fisher and Mark Adams, the city’s director of environmental health.
Fisher and Scaglione send cart sightings to Adams, who picks them up with a truck or trailer when he can.
“They’re my two cart guys,” Adams said. “So, we’re in it together.”
Health inspectors or community service workers have removed carts from the community on a smaller scale for years while working. Adams said it’s not so much a public health issue as a nuisance.
“We only did it because we couldn’t stand seeing them out there, and they would always accumulate garbage,” he said.
Fisher, who doesn’t own a truck, has made a few trips with Scaglione. He said residents contact him as well because they’re “tired of seeing them sitting in their yards.”
“I get people think it’s not that big of a deal, there are other things to worry about, but it kind of is a big deal,” Fisher said.
He has seen kids play in the carts and worries they could be injured.
Scaglione said there’s “no rhyme or reason” to where carts appear, but he seems to find certain ones more frequently.
He and Fisher report finding mostly Walmart carts with some from Giant Eagle and only a few from dollar stores. They credited Giant Eagle’s containment system, which locks a wheel if it passes an electronic perimeter.
“The ones I do find are older carts that don’t have that on the cart yet,” Scaglione said.
Adams, however, said he has picked up plenty with defective wheel locks. He has seen carts in equal parts from area grocery and dollar stores.
They have a few theories about why someone might steal a shopping cart.
“Very few of them are using them for groceries,” Adams said. “The majority of them are grabbing them and using them for scrapping activities.”
At least half a dozen carts usually occupy a grassy lot near a metal recycling company. In addition to scrapping, both councilmen said, they’ve heard that people without vehicles use them to take groceries home.
“I guess I wouldn’t have a problem with that if they would take them back, but they don’t take them back,” Fisher said. “They just leave them accumulate.”
He said he would like to examine if public transportation could provide such a service.
The time Scaglione saw people pushing groceries, he said, it was two kids followed by three adults. He told them stealing a cart was against the law, and they told him to “mind his own business.”
Stores also lose when carts stray. Adams estimated the cost of a shopping cart at a couple hundred dollars. Prices listed online range from less than $100 to more than $200.
“I would think that they would not want their investment to be roaming down the streets,” he said.
Earlier this year, Scaglione requested legislation to ensure that doesn’t happen.
He emailed Law Director Joseph Martuccio with an ordinance from Clark County, Nevada, as an example. The law required most grocery stores to install some sort of containment system and imposed fines for cart retrieval.
Scaglione is awaiting Canton’s version.
Adams, Scaglione and Fisher said they’ve received mixed reactions — from argumentative to appreciative — at stores when returning carts or seeking solutions to stray ones.
“A lot of the businesses around here, they don’t want to own up to it and try to help us do anything about it,” Fisher said. “So that’s why we’re working on getting that legislation done, if we ever get that done.”
Walmart declined to comment. Giant Eagle provided an emailed statement, saying the company does not comment on legislation but has employees who retrieve carts from corrals and are “mindful of any stray carts both within and nearby our parking lots.”
“While we do not believe that stray Giant Eagle shopping carts are an issue in our communities, we are nevertheless vigilant about ensuring that our carts remain on-site and available for customers,” it reads. “At select Canton area locations, these efforts include the utilization of electronic parking lot shopping cart containment systems.”
Scaglione remains vigilant in his own way. He won’t wait on a city ordinance or good weather, knowing cart roundups only get more difficult with ice and snow.
“I’ll be out several times throughout the winter even,” he said. “It doesn’t stop.”